Thursday, July 26, 2012

Joining the food allergy club

All last week Sophie had a rash. A bad, bright-pink, covering her face and arms and legs rash. It began on Monday evening, as she was drinking a cup of sugar free fruit punch at her babysitter's house. It was not the first time her cheeks had broken out while drinking this, but I always brushed it off as irritation from a dirty, end-of-the-day face, or heat, or whatever. She does have sensitive skin and we have battled eczema since she was an infant. This time, it didn't go away. Tuesday she was at home with her sister all day, and for dinner had a different juice than normal, one that also contains red dyes. She worsened. I was up until 1 that night also, but she was alseep. I was the one wide awake and Googling like crazy. I came across lots of information about intolerances to food dyes, especially in children. I had heard of red #40 causing hyperactivity, but that's all I was aware of. I found out that both red and various yellows cause contact dermatitis (fancy way of saying rash). At 12:30 am Emma and I were going through our pantry and refrigerator checking labels like mad. Tuesday was the last time Sophie had anything to eat or drink with artificial colors.

Wednesday, the rash kept spreading, and on Thursday I took her to see her pediatrician to rule out other causes. After a thorough exam, she did say it was a bad allergic reaction, and will take 4-6 weeks to leave her system. The rash will come and go until then (thank goodness it doesn't seem to bother her often, although occasionally it does hurt). But, no more artificial colors. Her favorite cereals, any kool-aid type drinks, lemonade, many juice drinks (anything but 100% juice basically), gummies, lollipops, frosted cookies, cakes... Not things she had often but occasional treats were out. I visited Earth Fare and found an organic Cocopuffs type cereal that she likes. Target sells all-natural fruit snacks and organic lollies. I stashed a few in my purse to ward off tears when she can't accept one from the bank teller.

Monday after drinking fruit punch

Then Monday, she had more fruit punch at the sitter's house. Someone forgot and gave it to her. By the time we arrived at our next destination, the rash was back in full force (it had faded almost completely). That night, she was so hyper. Laughing like a madwoman for no reason, jumping on the bed, going crazy. Finally at 1 am she crashed. I realized that all of her other bouts of hyperness for seemingly no reason (no late nap, no sneaking drinks of our tea, no sugar) all coincided with days she's had something to drink for dinner that was red. I also use sugar-free drink mixes at home so the sugar wasn't the problem. It appears that she also has the hyperactivity issue from red #40 as well as the skin rash.

The outbreaks go beyond coincidence now. This isn't a virus, or heat rash (although heat does worsen it). She consumes something with red or yellow artifical coloring, and she breaks out. Even the timeline is predictible (it's not instantaneous). Her pediatrician said to eliminate the artifical colors completely for two months to give her body time to work the current reaction out of her system, then introduce something at home again to see if she has the reaction again. Regardless of that result, we have to live for the next two months as if she is allergic to the dyes. I honestly do believe this is the culprit, though. I already try to be aware of what she eats because she's allergic to fresh pineapple, but this just heightens my awareness (and anxiety) to levels I didn't know were possible. I want to know every single thing she puts in her mouth so I can check ingredients and labels. I'm already planning out beverages to pack for the zoo, even though we don't have our next visit even planned yet. I just remembered that she loved the giant wall of slushie machines and tried to think of alternatives (along with how to avoid that area of the zoo) since they are full of artifical colors. I was interested before, now I'm a vigilante. And this isn't even a life-threatening allergy like peanuts! I can't fathom the fear and anxiety parents of children with severe allergies face each day.

Links about this allergy:
Effects of the various food dyes
Links between food dyes and behaviour
Scientific research on food dyes
eHow: Food dye allergies Food dye intolerance


  1. I'm glad you (might) have answers! Caitlin was extremely hyper after staying with my parents the other day, and I just chalked it up to short nap time. Afterwards, I found out they took her to McDonald's and kept handing her "treats" at home. I have heard about this type of sensitivity before (maybe from you?), so I have my suspicions. We're working on a healthier family diet, so this is one more item on the "avoid" list :)

  2. Oh wow, glad you are figuring this out! That's a fear of mine...developing food allergies with Aubrey. I'm sooo allergic to bananas, and I don't want Aubrey to have this, too.

  3. Wow! My 21 year old son looked like that a couple of months ago and it turned out he had scarlett fever!

  4. My son is 4 years old when he was 3yrs old his severe eczema seemed to be getting worse, I bake a lot so there were always sweets with decorations in the house, We finally realized that he was allergic to Red Dye 40 it was causing the eczema to flare up and a rash like your daughters to form along his face arms and legs. We have cut out all dyes from out house. Everything is all natural/organic, we haven't removed regular sugar from his diet just artificial flavors & coloring as he hasn't shown signs of behavioral or weight issues. We still battle the eczema but the rash has been gone now for months. I constantly read and reread everything I buy or he eats, if there's no label with ingredients, like at a Fair we don't buy it. Its tough but I'm proud to say we went to breakfast last week at IHOP and my son said to the waitress I can't have red dye please no cherries on my pancakes for eyes. He understands at four years old he can't have it and why, cause it makes him itchy. :) I wish you and your family lots of luck its not easy but after a month you'll ask yourself why you never did it from day one.